Halloween is just around the corner, which means cookies, candies and…
In recent years, sugar has taken center stage as the villain of nutritional health.
But why is sugar painted as such a bad boy?
Other than the obvious tooth decay and energy crashes, sugar can have a huge impact on your health.
In this article, we explore the relationship between sugar and the immune system.
Keep reading to find out more…
What Is Sugar?
There are two types of sugar:
Natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables and dairy
Processed sugar found in candy, baked products and soft drinks
You might be surprised to hear this, but some natural sugar can actually be good for you.
It contains vitamins, minerals and nutrients which provide energy and help your brain, organs and muscles function properly.
However, not all natural sugar is good…
Dairy is notorious for causing inflammation and irritating the gut lining.
Even certain fruits, like mangos and bananas, can overload your body with sugar.
Processed sugar is the worst because it’s high in calories and low in nutrients.
Eating too much processed sugar can cause a whole host of problems for the body.
Unfortunately, most Westerners eat waaaay too much of it.
In fact, 90% of Americans consume more added sugars than is recommended. (1)
Eating sugar depletes the body’s nutrient balance and can lead to symptoms like:
Low energy levels
The real problem with added sugar, though, is that it promotes inflammation and weakens immunity.
Keep reading to learn why…
Sugar and the Immune System
The immune system is the body’s defense against bacteria and infection.
It’s made up of white blood cells that protect the body from foreign invaders
Unfortunately, eating too much sugar can temporarily paralyze white blood cells, leaving your body vulnerable to infection.
To make matters worse, sugar can also trigger inflammation. (2)
Inflammation is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to protect and repair the body.
However, eating too much sugar can keep the immune system in a state of chronic inflammation and promotes diseases like:
Type 2 diabetes
Let’s take a closer look at the long-term effects of sugar on the immune system:
1. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common diseases worldwide.
People with diabetes have higher-than-normal levels of blood sugar.
When you eat, most food is broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream.
In response, the pancreas releases insulin, which moves glucose from the blood and into the cells.
However, the more sugar you eat, the harder the pancreas has to work.
If you eat too much sugar, the body can become resistant to insulin and cause blood sugar levels to rise.
High blood sugar affects the immune response by slowing blood flow.
Ultimately, this affects the body’s ability to heal and fight illness.
Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
Thankfully, you can reduce the risk of diabetes by eating less sugar.
An estimated 500 million people are obese worldwide. (3)
And believe it or not, sugar is a key player.
When you eat sugar, it spikes insulin levels.
Over time, elevated insulin makes you hungrier, and the hungrier you are, the more sugar you crave.
Even worse, when your body has more calories than it needs, it stores it as fat.
This is why sugar is so bad for obesity!
Many people believe that eating a low-fat diet reduces fat storage, but research shows that low-fat foods actually have a higher sugar content than fatty foods and can actually increase the risk of obesity. (4)
Who would’ve thought?!
Plus, as you gain fat you’re more prone to inflammation.
That’s because fat cells secrete inflammatory molecules called “cytokines.”
Cytokines can wreak havoc on the immune system, leaving the body more vulnerable to disease.
One of the keys to overcoming obesity is to eat a healthy diet and watch your portion size. (5)
3. Heart Disease
The two main causes of heart disease are high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and eating a lot of sugar increases them both.
In general, cholesterol gets a bad rep, but you actually need some cholesterol to build healthy cells.
However, eating too much sugar can make the liver fatty and inflamed.
At the same time, “bad” LDL cholesterol may stick to the linings of the arteries.
Over time, this restricts blood flow by hardening and narrowing the arteries (a.k.a. atherosclerosis).
As a result, the heart has to work much harder to pump blood.
Even worse, the immune system may see this buildup as a foreign enemy and attack it with inflammatory cytokines.
High levels of cytokines can damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of a heart attack.
Atherosclerosis also boosts blood pressure and makes the heart work even harder.
Over time, all this extra work can thicken and harden the heart muscle.
Ultimately, a thick heart muscle is more prone to heart disease and heart attacks.
Symptoms of heart disease include:
Shortness of breath
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. (6)
If you don’t want to be one of them, it might be time to cut back on the sugar.
Sugar may speed cancer growth by fueling cancer cells.
Research also shows that too much glucose in the blood can cause DNA damage. (7)
Over time, damaged DNA can lead to dangerous mutations and increase the risk of cancer.
For example, a recent animal study found that eating a high-sugar diet can cause breast cancer. (8)
Plus, added sugars promote obesity, and obesity and cancer are closely linked.
Avoiding cancer is no easy task, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk, including:
Avoiding sugar like the plague
Maintain a healthy weight
Getting plenty of exercise
5. Digestive Issues
Did you know that 70% of your immune system is housed in the gut? (9)
It is made up of trillions of good and bad gut bacteria and is essential to keeping you healthy.
Eating too much sugar has been shown to destroy good bacteria and lead to:
If that wasn’t bad enough, bad bacteria boosts sugar cravings as well.
Ultimately, the more sugar you eat, the weaker the gut lining becomes.
Research shows that sugar increases the risk of leaky gut. (10)
Leaky gut occurs when cracks develop in the lining of the intestinal tract.
This allows bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles to sneak into the bloodstream, promote inflammation, and trigger the immune system.
6. Adrenal Fatigue
Sugar promotes adrenal fatigue by jacking up dopamine levels in the body.
This is because when you eat sugar, dopamine is released in the brain’s reward centers.
Unfortunately, this can make you crave sugar even more!
In fact, studies show that sugar can be just as addictive as caffeine and nicotine. (11)
As you start to crash from your sugar high, the adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol.
If this process is repeated regularly, the adrenal glands can become fatigued.
Signs of adrenal fatigue include:
Low blood pressure
Unexplained weight loss
Sugar and adrenal fatigue can also negatively affect your mental health.
The extreme high of a sugar rush, almost always ends in an extreme low when you crash.
In the long run, this “sugar rollercoaster” has been linked to mental health problems like:
When it’s all said and done, you’re better off avoiding sugar altogether.
How To Avoid Added Sugar
Avoiding sugar can be hard because it’s hidden in almost everything.
In fact, even seemingly healthy foods like smoothies and muesli can be loaded with sugar.
But don’t worry, here are some handy tricks to help you out:
1. Know Where Sugar’s Hidden
Obviously, candy, cake and soda are off limits, but sugar is also added to savory foods, sauces, salad dressings and granola.
These can all sneak into your meals without you even knowing it!
But sugar isn’t quite as sneaky as it thinks…
You can spot it on food labels under the following names:
Nice try sugar!
2. Make Food Swaps
Cutting back on sugar doesn’t mean you can’t still get your sugar fix.
Making some simple swaps can significantly reduce your sugar intake and still keep you satisfied.
Artificial sweeteners for natural foods or spices
Store-bought dressings for homemade dressings
Soda for sparkling water
Low-fat dairy yogurt for sugar-free coconut yogurt
3. Eat More Protein and Fat
A high-sugar diet increases appetite and promotes weight gain.
However, protein and fat can reduce appetite and make sugar cravings easier to manage.
Plus, protein and fat can stabilize blood sugar.
Some great sources of protein and fat include:
If you have any more questions about sugar and the immune system, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.